Judge cites substantial progress in Ferguson reforms
ST. LOUIS (AP) — The federal judge overseeing a reform agreement between Ferguson, Missouri, and the U.S. Department of Justice said Tuesday that she has seen substantial progress in efforts to eliminate bias in the St. Louis suburb’s law enforcement system.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry heard a quarterly update on progress in Ferguson, where the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown was a catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“All signs are pointing toward progress,” Perry said. She said the effort so far “is how the court system is supposed to work and the process is supposed to work.”
Brown, a black and unarmed 18-year-old, was fatally shot by white officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, 2014, setting off months of often violent protests in Ferguson and throughout the St. Louis area. Wilson was not charged and resigned in November 2014.
But the shooting prompted a Justice Department investigation that found troubling evidence that Ferguson police targeted poor and black residents, and that fines and court costs subsidized city operations.
A 2016 consent agreement requires significant changes.
Some residents complained that the reform process is often lacking in transparency, particularly in alerting residents to community meetings. One woman cited a meeting at an apartment complex that drew just one resident.
Another Ferguson resident, Justin Idleburg, wondered why nearly four years after Brown’s death, police policies on body cameras, accountability and other matters are still only in the development stage.
“Four years?” he asked. “Can we speed this process up?”
Officials from both the Justice Department and the city, though, cited progress.
Ferguson City Attorney Apollo Carey said the city has completed a review of 7,900 unresolved municipal court cases that dated back prior to 2014. An amnesty program has dismissed about 6,200 of those cases, while 1,704 will be prosecuted, mostly for cases involving more serious crimes.
Justice Department attorney Jude Volek said the city is nearing completion on a new stop, search and arrest policy, and a new policy on the use of body-worn cameras. A mediation process is being established for residents who have complaints about mistreatment by police. A community policing plan is expected to be finalized next month.
Mildred Clines, a Ferguson resident and a member of the community group called the Ferguson Collaborative, said progress has been slower than many residents would like, largely because while new policies are nearing completion, they haven’t yet been implemented.
“The majority of the citizens of Ferguson really don’t feel any different,” Clines said. “That’s when you can say you’ve seen progress — when the citizens say they’ve seen it.”